Thursday, November 30, 2006

Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Last September I did a radio interview with Francine Silverman, a wonderful champion of authors.

Joining us was Carolyn Howard-Johnson, an award-winning novelist and author of The Frugal Book Promoter. (That's Carolyn in the photo.) On the air Carolyn mentioned that she, too, was a late bloomer. I was shocked. She seemed like the kind of woman who had always been in bloom. Little did I realize that she waited sixty years to write her first novel. After the show, she e-mailed me the following:

Life Begins at Sixty

Sometimes the big barriers in life aren’t abject poverty, dreaded disease or death. Sometimes they’re the subtle ones set upon us by time and place. The ones that creep up silently on padded feet, and if we sense them at all, we choose not to turn and face them.

The decade of the 50s was a time when these kinds of barriers faced those with dark skin, those who lived in closed religious communities, and those who were female.

When I applied for a job as a writer at Hearst Corporation in New York in 1961 I was required to take a typing test. I was piqued because I wasn’t applying for the typing-pool, I was applying for a post as an editorial assistant.

I was told, “No typing test, no interview.”

I took the test and was offered a job in the ranks of those who could do 70 in a minute. I had to insist upon the interview I had been promised. I was only twenty and had no real skills in assertiveness. I am amazed I had the wherewithal to do that.

Something similar was at work when I married and had children. I happily left my writing to accommodate my husband’s career and the life the winds of the times presented to me. That there was a time when we didn’t know we had choices is not fiction.

I had always wanted to write the next Gone with the Wind, only about Utah instead of about the South. I had a plan that was, itself, gone with the wind.

It was the 1950s and women in that time, and especially in that place, had a notion of who they should be, could be and, mostly, they got it from those around them because many of them couldn’t see the difference from society’s expectations and their own.

“You can’t be a nurse,” my mother said. “Your ankles aren’t sturdy enough.” I also was told I couldn’t be a doctor because that wasn’t a woman’s vocation. The choice left to me was to be a teacher. My dream to write became a victim of the status quo. Instead of following my star I searched for replacements.

My husband and I built a business. For forty years I didn’t write and, during that time women become more aware. The equipment, gears and pulleys were in place for a different view on life.

In midlife I became aware that there was an empty hole where my children had been but also that the hole was vaster than the space vacated by them. I knew I not only would be able to write, I would need to write.

Then I read that those who live until they are fifty in these times may very likely see their hundredth year. That meant that I might have another entire lifetime before me--plenty of time to do whatever I wanted. In fact, it’s my belief that women in their 50s might have more time for their second life because they won’t have to spend the first twenty years preparing for adulthood.

That was it. I started writing This is the Place. I had to relearn old skills and brush up on new, and I am proud that I did it. I’m glad that I waited until I was sixty. Forty years of experience gave it a dimension it would not have had if I had written it when I was young.

That first novel has expanded into four books including a new book of poetry, Tracings, and I am now working on one called Best Book Forward: How to Edit for a Spotless First Impression. I like that I am doing something for other women and for other writers.

I also like being proof that a new life can start late—or that it is never too late to revive a dream.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Prill:

    I have been e-mail remiss, I'm afraid. I have been editing my next book in the How to Do It Frugally series (The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success) and have been rushing through 400 e-mails a day. I must have missed yours.

    A formal thank you for your beautiful blog feature will go in my next newsletter, "Sharing with Writers." Anyone who would like to subscribe and learn more about writing--the craft, promotion and even tekkie stuff--may send me an e-mail with "subscribe" in the subject line.

    Your readers will find you in the one coming out next week.

    Thank you sooooooo much.

    Carolyn Howard-Johnson